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ERIC Number: EJ762206
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2007
Pages: 17
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 13
ISSN: ISSN-0730-3238
Out of the Classroom and into the Canyons: An American Indian Travel Course in Theory and Practice
Shumaker, Conrad
Studies in American Indian Literatures, v19 n1 p32-48 Spr 2007
The author of this article, believes that the conventional classroom is designed to separate students from the places they come from and the places in which they live. Therefore, bringing American Indian literature into the space of the classroom is to create a disjunction. With a firm conviction that Contemporary American Indian literature calls not just for literary appreciation but for action and new ways of connecting, the author, with the help of a sociology professor colleague who spent time as a nurse on the Navajo reservation, set out to develop a Native American Literature course. They designed and set up a travel seminar to show students in a living classroom the deep connection between culture and literature, and that the two must be understood hand in hand. They began with having students examine their own way of living in a context that would throw students off balance and make them discover their own assumptions in a basic way. Students went to an educational center run by an organization called Heifer International and began with the "global village experience" in which students spent an afternoon working in an organic garden and then had to live for the evening and night in the kind of dwelling space they would find in Guatemala, Africa, Thailand, the Appalachians, or a Mexico City barrio. They had to figure out a way to get water and firewood, how to enhance their meager allowance of food by trading materials or labor with neighbors, and to cook using a wood stove if they were "rich" by world standards or an open fire and an automobile grill if they were less prosperous. Coming off that experience, students acquired a clearer sense of the importance of shelter, food, fuel, and water as elements of a place, and they were ready to discuss our way of life more intensely. In this context, questions were raised about how students define themselves and the effect they have on other cultures because of that definition, and the effect on the land and the beings they share it with. Meanwhile students read literature and works about American Cultures, but discussions of specific text are discussed on site. Students then travel to the reservation not as tourists, but as informed visitors. As the students have experiences such as meeting with a Hopi Potter and discussing the significance of petroglyphs, or helping a family plaster a house in the traditional Hopi way using mud and bare hands, or sharing a traditional family meal, they are also discussing the literature. Students gain a new awareness of the difficulty facing people whose culture is under constant pressure to become "American." Issues of cultural tension, land destruction, healing, and stories come alive for those students in ways they never can in the classroom. The author also freely shares his insight and suggestions for others thinking of planning travel courses of their own. He covers such nuts and bolts topics as establishing connections, funding, and liability.
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A